The Role of Existentialism in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex

While Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is known primarily as a feminist text, it is Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy that influenced Beauvoir’s writings. As existentialists, these philosophers argue that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject and not the thinking subject alone. Sartre argues that philosophical thinking starts with the acting, feeling, living human individual. For an existentialist, the starting point of a being is when one senses disorientation or dread when looking at the world. For existentialists, it is the individual and not society that determines and is responsible for the meaning of their own life. Beauvoir takes existentialist philosophy and transforms it into a discussion on feminism, racism, motherhood and many other topics. In this essay, I will show how Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy influenced Simone de Beauvoir’s theories on feminism. It is through Sartre’s use of the character, Inez, in “No Exit” that show how existentialist philosophy’s role is played in the discussion of Hell. It is Sartre’s thoughts that influence Beauvoir’s thoughts on topics in this life rather than in the afterlife. In Margaret A. Simons’ book, Beauvoir and The Second Sex: Feminism, Race, and the Origins of Existentialism, the ties between Beauvoir and existentialism are laid out and offer a good understanding and interpretation of The Second Sex and its role as a feminist and existentialist text. When reading The Second Sex, one can discern that the text is simply an expression of Sartrean existentialism in the form of the question of women, displaying Beauvoir as a philosopher first, and secondly as a feminist as she transforms Sartre’s philosophy and creates her own.

While Beauvoir plays a major role in Sartrean existentialism, it is important to look at Jean-Paul Sartre first. In his play, “No Exit,” Sartre’s philosophy is displayed well through the use of the character, Inez. Sartre’s philosophical views are embedded in his characters as they play an integral part in portraying an existentialist view in the play. Sartre uses the characters’ personal attributes to demonstrate existentialist thought. Each of the three characters display characteristics of sexual perversion and interaction with the consciousness. Sartre explores many existentialist themes, most noticeably, “No Exit” focuses on the ideas of consciousness and freedom. While the play’s setting is Hell, the characters are taken into a room with no mirrors, no windows, only three sofas, a paper knife and a mantel piece leaving the characters exposed, raw, and bare to the reader. It is Inez that brings forth the notion of consciousness to the play. Inez’s first thought about Garcin provides a great example of the distinction between knowing something and being conscious of something, Sartre writes, “Garcin: I beg your pardon. Who do you suppose I am? Inez: You? Why, the torturer, of course” (8). Without the knowledge that it is in fact Garcin and later, Estelle, that is her torturers, Inez’s misconception is actually hitting at the truth. Inez offers many existentialist thoughts on consciousness. Sartre believes that consciousness is painful and he argues that humans spend much of their time with unreflected consciousness. Inez expresses this when she says, “I’m always conscious of myself – in my mind. Painfully conscious” (19). For Sartre, an existentialist must know that existence precedes essence meaning that an individual must act as an individual. Inez realizes this in Hell when she says, “So I’m done with the earth, it seems. No more alibis for me! I feel so empty, desiccated – really dead at last. All of me’s here, in this room” (29). In this quotation it is seen that Inez realizes that it is she who determines her own fate. She is solely responsible for ending up in Hell. This is what being an existentialist means. An existentialist has the freedom to determine their own fate and to also take responsibility for their decisions. So it is seen in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” what it means to be an existentialist. It is this groundwork that provided Simone de Beauvoir with the ability to expand and transform existentialist thought in The Second Sex.

In Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, she takes Sartre’s existentialist philosophy and transforms it into her own. Like Sartre, Beauvoir puts a lot of thought into the human struggle for freedom. The Second Sex lays out the groundwork for the second wave of feminism. The second wave is concerned with sexuality, family, and reproductive rights, among other things. This relates to existentialism in the way that existentialists worry about achieving freedom, or the ability to choose for themselves in good faith. In Margaret A. Simons’ Beauvoir and The Second Sex : Feminism, Race, and the Origins of Existentialism, the first line of the second chapter reads:

the question of the influence that Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre had on one another’s work during the fifty years of writers analyzing their relationship has seldom been posed in a rigorous fashion…feminist philosophers who consider The Second Sex (1949) to be merely an application of Sartre’s perspective are similarly reminded of Beauvoir’s philosophic differences from Sartres when their analyses confront the sexism and limitations of Sartre’s understanding of woman’s situation…(Simons 41)

Simons is saying that people who read Beauvoir without a feminist lense, see Beauvoir as merely a reiteration of Sartrean existentialism. For Simons, one must recognize Beauvoir as a philosopher along with being a feminist. A man who is limited to the knowledge of being a man is more likely to see Beauvoir as an imitator of Sartre. Beauvoir writes, “man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male” (Beauvoir). This again provides an existentialist reading of the text, as the men are taking on the role of telling the woman how she should and should not be; this gives the woman the sense that she is not in control of who she is. This shows that if someone is taught her entire life that to be a woman, she has to act or look a specific way, be submissive, and work only certain jobs, it is going to affect her sense of freedom and authenticity. Beauvoir writes on the domineering role men take when it comes to women, “the whole of feminine history has been man-made. Just as in America there is no Negro problem, but rather a white problem; just as anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, it is our problem; so the woman problem has always been a man problem” (Beauvoir). She is saying that men are the people with the problem when it comes to women’s issues. For Beauvoir, men have created the problems that women face. This makes life hard for a woman that identifies as existentialist. So if this is the case, for Beauvoir, being known as the woman who followed her husband’s thoughts would be incredibly difficult.

While many feminist writers before Beauvoir took the form of literature, Beauvoir was among the first to view feminism in a philosophical manner. It is this form that Beauvoir takes that distinguishes her from her contemporaries, including Sartre. Beauvoir not only examines existentialist theory but takes it and applies it to the question of women. Simons writes, “an obvious question for a feminist philosopher is whether the same process has been at work in philosophy…The Second Sex reveals that is has” (Simons 101). Simons is saying that Beauvoir is creating a new way to discuss feminism that must be read and understood differently than a work of literature. Beauvoir not only contributes to feminist thought but adds on to Sartrean philosophy in a way that Sartre, as a man, never could. Simons writes, “The Second Sex is important not only for its contribution to feminist philosophy, but for its more general contribution to existential moral and social philosophy and to our understanding of the social construction of knowledge” (Simons 101). Simons continually emphasizes Beauvoir’s influence on the wider spectrum and not feminism alone. Simons successfully displays that Beauvoir is in her own right, a pioneer of the existentialist movement. Simons later shares on page 101 that for Beauvoir, The Second Sex is the combination of existentialism and feminism. Beauvoir shares that the self needs someone acting “the other” in order to define itself as a subject. By saying this she says it is necessary for the constitution of the self as a self. This is where the two come together. As the woman acts as “the other,” this provides the reader with the perfect example for understanding Beauvoir’s view on otherness and existentialist thought on how the otherness affects everyone. Simons perfectly describes Beauvoir’s position on feminism. Beauvoir is writing as a philosopher. She is examining the entire world of existentialism and human existence and takes these thoughts and turns them into a conversation on feminism. This was on of the first philosophical texts written about the female. While her views remain true to Sartrean philosophy, she expands it into a conversation that has never been done before, that of the woman.

Through understanding Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy, understanding Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophical writings, and being able to view the differences, one can conclude that not only is Beauvoir’s writing her own but it takes the influence of Sartre’s thought and transforms it into a new while still maintaining the foundations of Sartre’s philosophical thought. This distinction is important to understand because it provides Beauvoir with not only the mind of a woman writing on feminism but the mind of a philosopher writing on the thoughts of all human beings. Feminism through the philosophical view of existentialism provides a unique understanding of the problem. This is the understanding that the individual woman should be able to decide her own fate. Beauvoir expresses her belief that it is men that have created the problem for women and it is exactly through her discussion on individual freedom that expresses this. Reading The Second Sex as an existentialist text provides the reader with an even richer understanding of Beauvoir’s thoughts.

Props, Scenery, and Punishment in Sartre’s No Exit

While in the play No Exit hell is famously defined as “other people”, it is the setting of hell which will ultimately create the hostile and volatile conditions that the characters find themselves in. Sartre places his characters in his existentialist hell in order for them to learn through their punishments, a strategy by which he intends to expose their inner, self-conscious nature until they accept both who and where they are. Ultimately, through the Second Empire drawing room, the buzzer, and peculiarities like the bronze ornament and letter opener, Sartre is able to force his characters to collide, judge, and mentally torture each other, until they accept their place in his existentialist hell.

When the Valet tells Garcin that the bell is working “capriciously”, Sartre uses a playful form of dramatic irony, as the audiences knows that the bell will not work. It then appears that this is all the bell and locked door are intended for: to trap the characters together and remind them they have no escape or communication outside their imprisonment. However, Sartre uses the door towards the end of the play to expose Garcin’s cowardly nature. When facing judgement from Inez, Estelle remarks that she wants to leave, to which Garcin says; “Go if you can. Personally, I ask for nothing better. Unfortunately, the door’s locked.” Yet when the door flies open towards the end of the play, he is adamant that he “shall not go” despite demanding to be let out. This serves to expose Garcin’s cowardly nature to the extent that he is too scared to leave the company of others and leave his hell. Moreover, “the management” (a sinister and ambiguous term) of hell is so certain of his cowardly nature that this group does not refuse to open the door, as it is clear that Garcin will not leave the room.

Likewise, the sofas are more than just amenities designed to fit in with the Second Empire drawing room style. Sartre initially uses the sofas to show the existential flaws of Estelle. She states, “It’s those sofas. They’re so hideous.” When Inez offers Estelle her sofa, Estelle takes the perfect existentialist point of view, asking, “What’s the good of worrying now anyhow? We’ve got to take what comes to us.” She raises the point that Sartre is trying to have these characters see: there is no point worrying about one’s appearance or any vanities, especially not in hell. Estelle fails to stick to this idea immediately and switches to Garcin’s sofa: “The only one that might do a pinch, is that gentleman’s,” a statement that shows the audience why she is placed in Sartre’s existentialist hell. Also, the sofas force the characters to sit facing each other, which clearly disturbs Estelle and Garcin, as shown by the remark “You will always see me?” from Garcin. Here we see the success of the sofas as an existentialist punishment. Garcin wishes to hide from the judgment of Inez, and ultimately from the truth that he is a coward, thus acting more cowardly. Inez points out this reality: “Oh you coward, you weakling, running to women to console you!” However, the punishment of being constantly watched proves too much for Garcin, and he succumbs to the pressure and judgement of Inez, further proving why Sartre places him in hell.

Due to the confined nature of his hell, Sartre often has his setting overlap and combine to inflict further punishment on the characters. A good example of this tactic is how the lack of blinking and mirrors combine with the sofas. Garcin beautifully exemplifies just how relentless life could be without blinking: “You can’t imagine how restful, refreshing, it (blinking) is. Four thousand little rests per hour.” This idea is reflected by the sofas in that the characters cannot escape into themselves and their own thoughts and so are forced to engage with one another. If there were mirrors, these would symbolise the reflection of the flaws of the characters within each other, but, “since there are no mirrors… the characters become a mirror of the actions and thoughts of each other.” Estelle, the vainest of the three characters, says “When I can’t see myself I begin to wonder if I really and truly exist.” This statement tells us that Estelle accepts her identity through her appearance. Therefore, we can see how Sartre tries to force Estelle out of her narrow-minded ways and into a more existentialist way of thinking. However, Estelle resists throughout the play and seeks approval constantly, whether by trying to see her reflection in the ornament and Inez’s eyes, or by clinging for Garcin to make love to her. She pleads, “Look at me. Please look. Touch me. Touch me.” to try to distract herself with Garcin, but she will ultimately be left with no one to support her. At the end of the play, Estelle attempts to stab Inez with the letter opener and escape the existentialist punishment of being alone, but it is at this point that she falls victim to Sartre’s existentialist punishment.

The inclusion of the letter opener puzzles both the characters and the audience. As Garcin points out “… what’s the use of this?” It comes into use when Estelle attempts to kill Inez, as she “stabs her several times.” Clearly, Estelle is utterly oblivious to the fact that the characters are all dead, as shown by the numerous stabs directed at Inez. Moreover, her determination and belief that she can get rid of Inez are shown by the declaration, “Right!…I’ll stop her watching.” This is proof that Estelle is trapped in her self-centered bubble and does not acknowledge hat she is really in hell. Inez bursts the bubble in her response: “… what do you think you’re doing? You know quite well I’m dead.” Estelle can only reply with “dead?” We know from earlier on in the play Estelle has refused to come to terms with her state, as she demands the characters call themselves “absentees” rather than dead. It is easy to picture the look of realization which comes across Estelle’s face as she fully accepts where and who she is. Using the knife, Sartre manages to offer Estelle false hope in her narrow-minded state, before it is gone; through the shock, she accepts herself in an existentialist hell forever.

Finally, like the letter, there is another prop which has seemingly no reason to be in hell. The bronze ornament is described as “awful,” “A bronze atrocity,” and doesn’t fit into Second Empire décor. Thus there has been much debate about why Sartre includes it. By introducing the ornament with the quote, “I suppose there will be times where I stare my eyes out at it. Stare my eyes out…” Sartre implies a disturbing relationship between the ornament and Garcin. The repetition of “stare my eyes out” is used cleverly to show the peculiarity of the effect that this ornament has on Garcin, much like the peculiarity of the ornament in Sartre’s hell. This sense of oddity is further emphasized with, “He goes to the bronze ornament and strokes it reflectively.” For the audience to see this rational man act in a completely irrational way, under the influence of the inanimate bronze, is extremely chilling. The bronze ornament’s next mention will be its final, and one of the most important of the script: “This bronze… I’m looking at this thing on the mantelpiece, and I understand that I’m in hell…They knew I’d stand at the fireplace stroking this thing of bronze.” By returning to the image of Garcin stroking the bronze, Sartre shows the strength of the bond between the two to last the length of the play. Moreover, using the phrase “They knew” shows that Sartre has successfully planted “This bronze” to affect Garcin until he states “I understand that I’m in hell.” While it has been speculated that the ornament is used to represent the lack of purpose the characters have now in hell, I would go even beyond the view offered by Walter Redfern: “It helps drive home that (they) are inescapably in Hell.” The ornament is there to frustrate the characters in their lack of explanation for it, as it represents that they can no longer alter the structure of their reality.

Halfway through the play Inez states that “…they’ve thought it all out. Down to the last detail. Nothing was left to chance. This room was all set for us.” Sartre uses detailed props in an intricate and specific way to ensure that the characters suffer his existentialist punishments. Through details such as the position and color of the sofas and the intriguing and remarkable bronze ornament, he is able to clearly map out to the audience the characters’ existentialist flaws and weaknesses, as well as to show how those flaws and weaknesses are amended. The effects that the setting and props have on the characters are plain to see, until eventually, after Sartre has had his stage affect all the characters, they are left with an acceptance of their place in hell.

Bibliography

Sartre, Jean-Paul – No Exit and Three Other Plays, trans.Stuart Gilbert, Vintage International Edition, 1989Adrian Van Den Hoven – Sartre’s Conception Of Theater: Theory And Practice; Sartre Studies International;2012, Vol. 18 Issue 2 Best, Victoria – An Introduction to Twentieth-Century French Literature, Duckworth, London, 2002Leavitt,Walter – Sartre’s Theatre, Yale French Studies, No.1, Existentialism (1948)Redfern, Walter – Sartre, Huis Clos and Les Sequestres d’Altona, p.11, Grant & Culter Ltd, 1995

Identity in No Exit

In “Metafictional Characters in Modern Drama,” June Schlueter contrasts the metafictional character with the dramatic character. According to Schlueter, “drama presents a fixed identity, which in real life is a misnomer” (9). Metatheater differs from traditional theater because metafictional characters do not have fixed identities. The metafictional character is dual; it is both real and illusory, both actor and character. This rift between real and illusory extends to incorporate not just the duality of character and actor, but also the duality of the inner and outer self. In Sartre’s No Exit, the essential self (which in metatheater represents the actor) represents the inner self, and the role-playing self (which refers to the character in metatheater) represents the outer self. As the three sinners attempt to determine the proper balance between inner and outer self, they confront an existential crisis common to human nature: the search for an identity. In No Exit, this rift between actor and character is apparent when Inez asks Garcin and Estelle: “what’s the point of play-acting?” (17). (The characters are already in hell, so what is the point of pretending to be innocent?) Sartre’s use of the word “play-acting” reminds the spectator that actors play the characters. More importantly, however, the characters in No Exit are twofold because of the duality between inner and outer self. Inner self refers to the identity the characters imagine themselves to have. Outer self refers to the identity created by other people.According to Schlueter, “individual identity appears dependent upon individual perceptions, and since such perceptions vary among individuals, and even the perceptions of a single individual are inconsistent, so also does the identity of the person or character perceived vary” (10-11). The identities of the three sinners in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit, are true to Schlueter definition — or rather the lack of these three characters’ identities is true to Schlueter’s definition of the metafictional character. Inez, Estelle, and Garcin depend on one another to the point where they are no longer individuals. Inez strives to maintain an independent identity yet is unsuccessful because Garcin judges her. Garcin and Estelle consciously shy away from identity; Estelle looks to others to determine her appearance; and Garcin allows others to determine his soul. Inez values her inner self over her outer self. She tells Estelle, “I’m always conscious of myself — in my mind. Painfully conscious” (19). She cannot maintain her own identity because she strives to be an individual. She is bothered by the fact that other people view her identity differently than she views it herself. Her frustration is evident when she accuses Garcin of “stealing” her face. Garcin can see her face, but Inez cannot because there are no mirrors. The fact that Inez accuses Garcin of “stealing” leads one to infer that she believes she is supposed to judge herself, not to be judged by other people. Inez’s pursuit of an identity is futile. What’s the point of attempting to maintain one’s own identity if others control it anyway? Unlike Inez, Estelle and Garcin decide against maintaining their own identity. They encourage others to determine their identity for them and thus place a higher priority on the outer self. Estelle lacks appreciation for the inner self; she says that “everything that goes on in one’s head is so vague, isn’t it? It makes one want to sleep” (19-20). She views herself in accordance with other people’s physical image of her. She says, “when I can’t see myself I begin to wonder if I really and truly exist” (19). When Inez acts as her mirror, Inez is able to convince her she has a pimple, when in fact she does not. Through Estelle, Sartre emphasizes the mysteriousness of identity. If one depends on other people for one’s identity, how can one know whether they are lying? Ultimately, it does not matter whether one’s identity is true or false. Reality is different from truth. An unreal illusion is often more true. For instance, Schlueter argues that the fictive dramatic character is truer than the realistic metaphysical character. Garcin’s identity is also mysterious. It is mysterious to him because he is not in control of it; he allows Inez to determine it for him. When Inez says his mouth looks grotesquely frightened, Garcin apologizes. He accepts Inez’s impression of him without question. Garcin is unwilling to decide whether or not he is a coward. Throughout the play, he asks Estelle and Inez if he is a coward for fleeing the country. He does not leave the room when the door opens because he waits for Inez to determine whether or not he is a coward. He tells her, “If you’ll have faith in me, I’m saved” (44). Garcin has the opportunity to choose freedom when the door opens, yet he chooses to remain in hell because he chooses to avoid his problems. Garcin, Estelle, and Inez all lack identities, as shown by the rift between their inner and outer selves. The quest for identity is futile. Jean Paul-Sartre’s No Exit leaves the spectator in an existential crisis. Inez strives to be an individual but she cannot because others control her identity. From Estelle, the viewer learns that one’s identity may be based on lies that become true. From Garcin, one learns the freedom of identity comes with responsibility. Ultimately, this freedom of identity seems futile because of Inez’s failure to achieve her desired identity. Does identity even exist?

Existentialist Philosophy in Sartre’s “No Exit”

Though brief and comedic, Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” offers great insight into the basic ideas of his existentialist philosophy. The commonplace setting of the work and the diversity of the basic character types allude to the applicability of the themes to reality. The main principles behind Sartre’s philosophy are detailed through the three main characters and the transitions that they undergo as the play progresses. The setting seems purposely ambiguous in the exposition of the play, allowing Sartre to establish an atmosphere and relate to his audience before delving into his main ideas. The entire play takes place in a single room, which is initially described as “a drawing-room in Second Empire style,” with “a massive bronze ornament stand[ing] on the mantelpiece” (3). In the opening, the main character, Garcin, walks in “accompanied by the room-valet,” and begins to make casual small talk with him about the style of the furniture and where his “toothbrush” might be (3-4). If it were not for Garcin’s abrupt inquiry about the location of “the racks and red-hot pincers and all the other paraphernalia,” the audience would assume that the setting is merely a drawing room in a normal upper- or middle-class household (4). The audience is eventually informed that the room is a representation of hell, with the Valet presumably exemplifying the devil. However, exposing the audience to the ordinary room before revealing its significance allows Sartre to create a relatable, earthly, and casual atmosphere, suggesting that “hell” can be present in real life. His setting also directs attention to the exchanges between the characters because the room is so normal, further implying that “hell” can be found within the minds and relationships of human beings. Garcin’s statement at the end of play that “hell is – other people” is in line with this view (61). The atmosphere is maintained throughout the rest of the play, with references to common items like the “sofa” and “the fireplace” (18, 60). In addition, the main characters – a frank older man, a middle-aged, ostentatious woman, and a lower-class lesbian – are diverse in many of their outward character traits, possibly implying that the situation portrayed could just as easily happen to any of the audience members. According to existentialist philosophy, for human beings “existence precedes essence.” Certain objects (like inanimate objects) are defined simply because they exist as a particular item; for instance, a table is defined as a table. Sartre called an object defined in this way as a “being in itself.” On the other hand, human beings must be defined in two ways – first, as an object that simply exists (a human being), and then as the essence that they decide upon. Sartre called an object defined in this way as a “being for itself.” This idea is the central concept behind Sartre’s play. As this second category of beings, the characters in the play are initially defined as existing simply because they are objects that are present on the stage. It is the formation of each character’s essence that establishes the conflict in the work. Left in a simple drawing room, without the presence of continuous action and cultural expectations, the characters must find a way to define their essences to one another and to themselves. Garcin, a pacifist who is in hell for having run from military duty, has trouble defining his essence because he has not assumed the responsibility for doing so. Instead, he lets others define his essence through their subjective characterizations of him. For Sartre, this is an example of “bad faith” – self-deception and lack of personal responsibility for one’s essence. Garcin’s reliance upon others is foreshadowed in the very beginning of the play. When the valet states that he is leaving the room, stage directions say that “Garcin makes a gesture to detain him” (9). When the valet actually does leave, Garcin instantly becomes frantic, pressing the call button for the valet and even “beat[ing] the door with his fists” (9). After the second character, Inez, arrives, Garcin looks around the room and proclaims: “How beastly of them! They’ve removed everything in the least resembling a glass” (11). Thus, it is apparent that Garcin is lost without a third-person view with which to define himself, either in the form of another person or a mirror. The lack of mirrors in the room reinforces the idea that the characters will only have each other and their own consciousnesses to define their essences. Though Garcin sometimes makes statements suggesting that he desires more personal responsibility for his persona, he is never able to act upon it. He at first tries to ignore the women in the room, saying that they all will “work out [their] salvation” by “looking into [theirselves], never raising [their] heads” (23). However, Garcin is unable to do so, and he instead listens to conversations about him on earth. Garcin later states that by his absence he has “left [his] fate in their hands,” again demonstrating how he lets others define him completely (52). Throughout a large portion of the play, Garcin attempts to convince Estelle (the third main character) and Inez that he is not a coward for having abandoned his civic duty to enlist in the military. He tells Estelle: “If there’s someone, just one person, to say quite positively I did not run away…that I’m brave and decent and the rest of it – well, that one person’s faith would save me” (53). Thus, it is apparent that he is reliant upon the faith of others rather than himself. When he realizes that Estelle does not really understand what he is asking, he turns to the more experienced Inez for confirmation of his character, telling her: “It’s you who matter; you who hate me. If you’ll have faith in me I’m saved” (57). Garcin’s anachronistic references to salvation further suggest that he has not accepted responsibility for his own character and the consequences (like condemnation) that have resulted from it. In addition, like Garcin’s statement that his acquaintances on Earth now have his “fate,” it represents a bit of Sartre’s opinion of determinism – that it is a form of bad faith, because it denies individuals the freedom of taking responsibility for their own actions. Estelle represents a character that similarly has bad faith and relies upon external things to verify her essence and existence. Like Garcin, she initially lies to both herself and the others about why she is in hell, demonstrating a lack of responsibility for herself and her actions. She is particularly alarmed at the absence of mirrors, saying: “When I can’t see myself I begin to wonder if I really and truly exist” (25). She further states: “When I talked to people I always made sure there was one near by in which I could see myself. I watched myself talking. And somehow it kept me alert, seeing myself as the others saw me” (25). Estelle’s dependence upon a third-person view of herself, like Garcin’s, reveals that she has not learned to define her own essence and is consumed by her reliance upon others; she has “bad faith.” Inez capitalizes on Estelle’s need for a mirror, offering her eyes as Estelle’s mirror. Estelle looks into Inez’s eyes and exclaims: “Oh, I’m there! But so tiny I can’t see myself properly,” to which Inez replies: “But I can. Every inch of you” (26). The references to views of Estelle’s physical appearance symbolize the responsibility for her consciousness: Estelle is unable to define herself and instead lets others – in this case Inez – define her. On the other hand, Inez represents a character that depends upon her own judgment for the formation of her essence. While the others lie about why they are in hell, Inez is honest and bluntly states: “What’s the point in play-acting, trying to throw dust in each other’s eyes? We’re all tarred with the same brush” (21). Thus, it is hinted at early in the play that Inez sees through the self-deception and favors honesty and responsibility for one’s past. When Estelle wonders about her existence in the absence of a mirror, Inez replies: “I’m always conscious of myself – in my mind. Painfully conscious” (25). Inez’s essence therefore does not come from outside of her own consciousness. When Garcin attempts to sit quietly and ignore the others, Inez exclaims: “To forget about the others? How utterly absurd! I feel you there, in every pore…you can’t prevent your being there” (29). Angry about Garcin’s ignorance of her and Estelle’s attention to Garcin rather than to herself, Inez continues: “I prefer to choose my hell; I prefer to look you in the eyes and fight it out face to face” (30). A statement made by Inez later helps tie these exclamations to Inez’s internal struggle. She tells the others: “I can’t get on without making people suffer. Like a live coal. A live coal in others’ hearts. When I’m alone I flicker out” (34). Garcin and Estelle’s weaknesses lie in their subjectivity to the judgment of others, whereas Inez is the one who must judge and affect other people. When the others ignore her, Inez becomes just as frantic as when Garcin was left by himself. In the same way that Estelle feels she doesn’t exist without a mirror, Inez feels she doesn’t exist when she can’t control and prey upon other people. Inez has taken responsibility for her actions and the formation of her essence. Unfortunately, Sartre seems to be warning his audience that assuming responsibility for one’s essence may lead to realizations about oneself that cause suffering, such as Inez’s frustration with her own reliance upon torturing other people. “No Exit” is ultimately a play about the struggles that individuals face with regards to assuming responsibility for their own essence. As a “being for itself,” human beings have the freedom to choose their own personality traits. This requires dependence upon one’s own judgment rather than that of third parties. However, it may also lead to realizations about one’s weaknesses that cause suffering.